On February 1 the season changed for No. 3 Arizona. That day may have been capped by a 60-58 loss at Cal, but the biggest loss was that of sophomore Brandon Ashley. Ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a broken foot, Ashley was one of Arizona’s most versatile players on both ends of the floor. To lose a player of his status requires an adjustment period, with the remaining players needing to get used to new roles.
And after their 88-61 win at Colorado in which the Wildcats put together a second half that ranks among their best halves of basketball all season long, Sean Miller’s team followed that performance with an 87-59 whipping of the Golden Bears in Tucson.
Nick Johnson led five Wildcats in double figures with 22 points (seven rebounds and five assists as well), and as a team Arizona shot 50.8% from the field. Eighteen of their 32 field goals were assisted, and Arizona also racked up 30 points in the paint with Cal big men David Kravish and Richard Solomon struggling with early foul trouble. Offensively speaking, Arizona’s performance on Wednesday was another step forward for a group that needed time to adjust to playing without Ashley.
In their last three halves of basketball Arizona’s shot 54-for-89, which works out to a “solid” 60.7%. With their ability to attack teams with both the dribble and the pass, Arizona’s done a good job during this recent run of not settling for long-range shots. In their last three halves of play, 71.9% of Arizona’s field goal attempts have been two-point shots. And when they have taken perimeter shots Arizona’s converted, making 12 of their 25 attempts (48%) from beyond the arc.
The only player to have issues offensively on Wednesday night was Gabe York (1-for-7 FG), but as he did against Colorado (ten rebounds) the sophomore contributed in other areas. York accounted for five rebounds and five assists, one of three Wildcats to tally at least five helpers on the night with Johnson (five) and T.J. McConnell (six) being the others. And with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson adding 12 points and ten rebounds off the bench, York’s quiet shooting night was even less of a concern.
Arizona’s ability to defend wasn’t going to change as a result of Ashley’s injury. The offensive end of the floor was where the concerns lie and that took longer to fine-tune, which is to be expected when considering how valuable Ashley was. But if anything’s to be taken from the last three halves of basketball that Arizona has played, it’s that they’re getting more comfortable with their adjusted responsibilities on that end of the floor. And that makes Arizona every bit the threat to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.